One summer I made the mistake of mentioning to my wife that I wished I could go to an adult soccer camp. The next thing I knew, she'd found a goalie camp on the internet in Maine sponsored by Tony Decicco, the former U.S. Women's World Cup team coach. As a lark, I sent in my application, getting back a congratulatory "You have been accepted!" My guess was that everyone whose check cleared had been accepted.
Unlike other campers who arrived with parents in tow, I was able to drive myself. As I stood in the registration line, the guy at the table pointed out that I'd left the parental signature line blank. When I told him I didn't think he'd need a parent's signature for me to register, his mouth dropped open. After collecting my goalie shirt, I was an official member of soccer camp.
When they gathered the 50 of us together, I realized for the first time they were all teenagers except for one 50-year-old -- me. They broke us down into small groups. I got some surprised looks, but I figured I'd just have fun with it. On the first couple of days, I found the reflexes that had made me a good indoor goalie held me in good stead playing in the larger outdoor nets. While the drills weren't a problem at first, they quickly became more demanding. The third day consisted of diving saves, one after the other. It was like getting body-slammed to the ground over and over. I was relieved to hear the head counselor pronounce tomorrow's morning session would be an easy one. I assumed they followed up a tough session with an easy day. I stayed up a little later and went in ready for my easy day.
It was called "pressure training" and was the closest thing to boot camp I'd ever experienced. Our tongues were hanging out. A kid named Mike tried to keep me going by giving me high-fives as we finished each drill. Another asked me how I was doing and when I said "the same as you," replied, "You're a brave man." I noticed a half-dozen campers had dropped out and gone to sit on the benches. Even though I'd run a lot of distance races over the years, that morning's session was the toughest physical experience of my life. The only thing that kept me going was the anger I felt at the head counselor for telling me that this was going to be an easy day.
When we finally finished, everyone gave me high-fives, and our counselor proclaimed me chief of the group, stating he hoped he'll be able to do something like this when he gets to be my age. As we got up to leave, I realized how much the morning had taken out of me. I could barely put one leg in front of the other. Even in running 10ks, I usually had a week off between races to recover. This had been like running multiple races the same day. I was nauseous as I drove away, and panicked when I realized I also had a tremendous pain in my chest. With my father dying of a heart attack, I knew quite well these were classic symptoms of a heart attack and considered my options. Since I'd never pushed myself this hard, I had no frame of reference to decide what to do, but realized that panicking would get me nowhere. I knew aspirin was recommended. I had Aleve back at the room but didn't know if it had the same qualities as aspirin. I considered going to Shaw's to buy aspirin, but didn't think they'd have a special line for potential heart attack victims, so I just drove back to my room at the motel.
I realized isolating myself was not very smart, but I needed to lie down. I planned how to call an ambulance if my symptoms worsened as I put the phone next to me and collapsed on the bed, not moving for an hour. It pained me just to get up to go to the bathroom. As I looked at my chest in the mirror, I saw a huge bruise on the side of my chest. I didn't even recall how it happened, but realized this was the cause of my severe chest pain. I was too stiff and sore to laugh much and still felt like quitting, but didn't want to have to explain that decision to my son.
When I got back to camp after lunch, everyone was dragging. I overheard one kid refer to this as the Kosovo Soccer Camp. The afternoon session turned out to be much easier, and I was glad I'd persevered because I'd learned a lot. Camp finished on an up-note as our team won the championship. At the closing ceremony, one of my teammates asked me with a puzzled expression where I got the energy to perform so well when he was so tired. As I smiled, he turned away without waiting for an answer, muttering, "You must have been pacing yourself." Little did he know.
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